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Personal perspective: Ken Kittoe - 12 Months on from our D&I pledge

Posted on July 2021

Black man beside quote

“As a white woman, I don’t know how it feels to live as a black man so it’s important that we have conversations of this nature at all possible opportunities” – Our CEO Deirdra Moynihan said this to me in June 2020. This lightbulb moment will stick with me for the rest of my life.

I’ve spoken to so many people who have said their last birthday didn’t count because it happened in a COVID year and to be honest we’ll probably always remember 2020 as “the lost year” but I disagree with the notion that the past 12 months didn’t count. Being locked in our homes forced us to look inwards and reflect on social issues like no other time before. In this time, so many things have been accomplished and so many amazing people have come to the forefront, speaking about their lived experiences in the hope the next generation will not have to deal with the same social issues the previous generation did – thanks again Jen Brook-Botfield who kicked off our personal perspectives articles and to Justin Dankyi, Kim Parsons and Tom Rees who also carried this on with great articles of their own!

Being at Venn Group for the past five years, I can honestly say I’ve always felt a part of the “Venn Group family” and of course all jobs have their difficult moments but the sense of togetherness and some of the lifelong friends I’ve made here will never disappear. The key word here is together, and there has been so many steps forward in the fight for equality and social change accomplished by employees of Venn Group, starting with the inception and formation of the D&I Forum (July 2020) – an open forum which invites employees of all backgrounds, sexualities, ethnicities etc. to speak once a month on historically “taboo” topics. I’ve learnt so much about myself but also others whilst in the meetings.  

Understanding one another is at the forefront of bringing in any form of change and recognising this is the reason we set about appointing a designated D&I Ambassador for each of the seven Venn Group offices back in August 2020. Who better to model and champion D&I within an office than someone who is there day in day out, understands the local community but also knows the day job. A big shout out to the Ambassador team: Taran Ruprai (Birmingham), Leonie Williams (Manchester), Niki Holdich (Leeds), Cameron Hester (Reading), Tom Rees (London) and Kirsty Mah (London) – their work genuinely goes a long way in “keeping the conversation going”. Social equality isn’t something that is going to happen overnight, it’s an ongoing journey and something we’re going to have to stick at but not forget to celebrate our incremental wins.

Our D&I journey at Venn Group has been expertly steered by Avenir (I would highly recommend them for any company looking for D&I Programme support), who have come in and rolled out bespoke companywide training. In December 2020, they began with a company engagement survey to find out what our employees thought about D&I at Venn Group. This has enabled us to identify areas to work on and help us start to formulate our D&I Strategy for 2021. As of today (July 2021), all Venn Group employees have recently completed Inclusive Leadership (for management) or Inclusive Teams (non-management) programmes which focused on cultivating an inclusive workplace and culture at work but also provided employees with the necessary tools to “Call out/Call In” non-inclusive or derogatory behaviour.

Alongside the training programmes, we’ve been hearing more personal perspectives from our friends/colleagues. One which really stuck out to me was the perspective of a carer eloquently described by Leah Holder, a Senior Executive Consultant from the London office. Her article highlighted to me that no matter what you see from a person day in day out, you never really know what they’re shouldering outside of work. We don’t truly know what people are dealing with once they leave work and it doesn’t matter how successful, smiley or positive someone is, they may be dealing with things that don’t exist in your own world. So, before you call someone boring for not coming to the pub on a Friday night, remember we all have different responsibilities plus it’s also possible they might be like me and prefer nightclubs to pubs!

As a black man, it would be easy for me to solely focus on the struggles and plights of black people, ignoring the issues others also face on daily basis but instead I’d rather fight for equality within the human race. Equality across genders has been a fight that begun long before I was born – In March 2021, to celebrate International Women’s Day we put together an event whereby four female members of the senior leadership team spoke about their careers, any obstacles they faced and how they overcame various adversity on their journey to becoming a senior leader. The meeting was as inspirational as anything I’ve seen in the past 12 months and I want to thank Kirsty MacDougall (Head of HR), Jocy James (Head of Learning & Development), Emma Walker (Associate Director) and Sophie Anderson (Senior Manager) for speaking at the event and inspiring the next generation of female leaders.

Together, we’ve accomplished so much over the past 12 months and my once part-time role has recently been made full time (Ken Kittoe, Diversity, Inclusion and Engagement Associate has a ring to it doesn’t it?!) but nothing would have been accomplished without my colleagues here at Venn Group.

Here’s to an even better 12 months than the last! (Click here to see our D&I journey over the last 12 months)